027 | Showing up to the world
While retaining our critical faculties
Hey there, and welcome to the twenty-seventh issue of Beginner’s Mind — a bi-weekly newsletter that critically examines the margins of culture, creativity, and the arts, through a contemplative lens. All new subscribers, thank you for joining the ride — I hope this newsletter finds you well and that we connect at some point in the near future.
I’m writing this on a Saturday night, February 5th. Dinner is being prepared as I write this — the lights are dim and there’s a warm hue filling the room. The music of Gilbert O’Sullivan plays loud. A while back, I found one of his albums on vinyl in poor condition but I cherish it so much that I keep it tucked away in a plastic sleeve and ever so often, it makes a special appearance. Today is one of those occasions.
This past Monday night, I watched a documentary titled Day of a Stranger (2021) — a 30-minute portrait of Thomas Merton (1915–1968), the American monk, theologian, social activist, writer, and scholar. The film covered audiotape recordings he created while living as a hermit in a forest between 1965–1968, accompanied by motion pictures of his hermitage tucked in the woods of Kentucky, USA.
If you’re familiar with previous issues of my newsletter, you will notice that there are some recurring themes. As the newsletter description suggests, I focus on the margins and outskirts— the subdued, ignored, and our relationship with the world and each other. And hopefully, without coming off as too idealistic, I aim at offering tangible ways in which we can respond perhaps a bit more mindfully.
On a daily basis, through the media, we are presented with catastrophic news that can be alarming. For example, the New York Times just released a short film titled Meet The People Getting Paid To Kill Our Planet — which highlights the main culprits in climate change: the agriculture and meat industry.
So what do we do with infuriating information like this?
We can go vegan or consume fewer animal products, or we can recycle or become activists. But still, there’s an unrelenting feeling that our impact is insignificant beside the real powers of destruction. And if we sit with information like this for too long, perhaps we can become immobile and hopeless.
Thomas Merton, speaks about this very thing in Day of a Stranger, he says:
Secular life is a trap in which everything is highly systematizsed - highly organized – in which people are brought under control — in which man lets himself be defined in advanced by society. What you have is this mechanism of people who feel themselves caught in a trap by society who feel unconciously or otherwise that there are deep possibilities in themselves which are being completely amputated and [they] react against this by getting sick and all this as a protest against an unlievable situation.
And to drive the point further, Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World says
The real hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. Many of them are normal because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does. They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted.
So it’s quite possible to feel gaslighted by the way systems of the world have been orchestrated and you don’t have to go far to witness immense suffering on all fronts. But the way to respond to the suffering of others and ourselves is to act upon our ideas regardless of the magnitude of their impact — it’s the small changes that we uphold that snowball and create larger differences. Perpetually reassessing our values and priorities can lead us closer to more equitable and just realities.
A question to ask ourselves is:
Who are you and what do you believe?
It’s possible that if we answered these questions, we will realize that we are not our roles, occupations, titles, relationships, and statuses and that they are merely facades that uphold nothing of value. Perhaps a result of these contemplative questions is one of the many reasons why the United States experienced the Great Resignation — a significant wave of people rethinking their relationships to work and life and some pursuing a vocation for an occupation.
So sit down and pay attention to who you are.
Who are you?
We must be critical and constantly assess and renew our values and continue to carry healthy doses of skepticism. We must carry a tone of enthusiasm to rethink priorities and recontextualize our beliefs as the world evolves. Open to face reality and willing to doubt our conceptions of what we are told is real versus what is actual reality. But this won’t be possible unless we confront tension, combat, criticism, and doubt. But it’s imperative that we show up if we long to occupy practices that are enriching and enlivening.
As civil rights activist, Audre Lorde says
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.
Paying attention to who we are is disruptive in the best sense of the term.
Beginner’s Mind | A Playlist
If you follow the Beginner’s Mind playlist below on Spotify, every issue, it’ll be updated with new music. I’ve also added the titles of the songs below.
Cycles Frank Sinatra
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath Black Sabbath
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight Richard & Linda Thompson
Try Some, Buy Some Ronnie Spector
Heart Sutra Kanho Yakushiji
Don’t Jump Billy Fury
Put A Little Love In Your Heart David Ruffin
4 Degrees Anohni
The Storm of Creativity (2015) by Kyna Leski